A conversation with Hayes Carll


by Sheldon Birnie

With festival season bearing down hard upon us, it is with great anticipation that we wait here for some of the world’s best singers, songwriters, and guitar pickers to come pouring in off the Hillbilly Highway and into our backyards. With performances at Dauphin’s Countryfest in June and the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July, Manitobans have no excuse to miss out on Hayes Carll. Stylus caught up with this Texas troubadour over the phone from a tour stop in Tucson, AZ.

Stylus: How does your summer look? Are you playing a lot of festivals?

Hayes Carll: Uh, it’s not too heavy. I got a lot of Canadian shows, then some sort of northern US shows. We’ll be playing through the summer and then in the fall I’m going to take a little break to record my new record.

Stylus: On your new record, is it all new songs, or do you have some that have been kicking around for a while?

HC: There’s some that have been around for a while that I just haven’t finished or recorded or whatever. Then there’s some newer songs that I’ve written recently. I still have to write a couple more songs, though. I’m not really sure what direction it’s going to take yet. They’re kind of all over the map. So I’m just going to keep on writing and hope the thing will show itself.

Stylus: Do you have any co-writes on this one?

HC: Yeah, I’ve got one with a guy named Daryl Scott who I’ve done a couple songs with in the past. I’ve got one with Bobby Bare Jr. I’ve got one with Scott Lauderdale. There’s a handful of them. I’ve been doing a lot more cowriting these days than I have in the past.

Stylus: When it comes to songwriting, your lyrics could be qualified as fairly literate songs. Who are some of your favourite writers that you draw inspiration from?

HC: My favourite writers? Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt. John Prine. Those were the guys, particularly Kristofferson and Dylan, who were game changers for me. I mean, I always loved country music, but when I discovered those guys I found it could be a lot more than just drinking beer. They really revolutionized the genre. So those are my main guys. Someone like John Prine, I’ve always appreciated his humour and the way he sang and played guitar. That was not beyond the realm of possibility for me [chuckle]. Not something like Mariah Carey, where I will never sound like that. Guys like Kristofferson and Prine, Ray Wylie Hubbard, their songs just really spoke to me. Those were the big guys for me.

Stylus: Was there a moment in particular that you can remember where you were like, “This is it! I’m going to be a songwriter”?

HC: I remember I was 16 years old, at my girlfriend’s parents house. She pulled out a Kristofferson record and put it on. The first song was “The Pilgrim.” I literally laid down on the floor and had this out of body experience. I’d never heard words put together like that before. I’d always wanted to be a writer, not just songs, but poetry and short stories and stuff. When I heard that, combined with my love of music, I thought it would be a lot more fun to write a three minute song than a 300 page book. So that sorta gave me my course right there, hearing Kristofferson’s voice.

Stylus: How long was it from that moment to when you put out your first record, Flowers & Liquor, which you just re-released?

HC: Let’s see, six or seven years. I finished high school, went off to college and fooled around with it. But it wasn’t until I got out of school and started playing in earnest. That happened when I was 25, so I guess it must have been seven or eight years.

Stylus: Why did you decided to rerelease that record at this time?

HC: It didn’t get a very wide circulation the first time though. I didn’t have any fans! I put it out on a little company called Compadre Records. I just did a licensing deal, I’d already made the record and they just helped me put it out. I got it back three years ago, so it’s basically been out of print, not in stores anywhere. My fanbase in the ten years in between releasing it and now, has grown substantially. I realized that probably 95 per cent of my fans had never heard that record, and had no way to get it. So I thought it was a good time, being ten years, to rerelease it.

Stylus: How does it feel rediscovering those songs at this point? Are there some you still play, or some you’ve forgotten about?

HC: There’s a few that I’ll play occasionally. Then there are a few that I had forgotten about. I hadn’t listened to the record for years until we started talking about rereleasing it. I was a little nervous going in, about how it was going to hold up. But a little bit to my surprise, it went pretty well. There are some good songs. I was still pretty much finding my voice as a singer on that record. But I think it holds up pretty well. I’m proud of it, and just want to give people a chance to look at it.

Stylus: Following your Twitter feed, you just took part in a charity ball game, and you seem to be pretty into football and stuff. What do you do when your not on the road to stay in shape or take your mind off music for a while?

HC: Well, I spend a lot of time at home with the family, hanging out, writing with my buddies or watching music. I play a few sports, basketball league and softball league, but that’s just mainly to not feel like a total loser when I’m not on the road. When I’m on the road, my physical fitness tends to slip a little bit. I get home and try to get out and have a little exercise, hang out with the guys. But most of the time I’ll just hang out with my kid, try to write songs.

Stylus: Now, you’re playing Winnipeg Folk Fest, and Dauphin Countryfest, which you’ve played before. What are you looking forward to about these Manitoba shows?

HC: Well, they’re pretty drastically different, those two. I’ve done Countryfest, I think this’ll be my fifth time. I’ve done the Folk Fest. Both of them have a lot of great music, and I have a lot of great friends at both, and a lot of great memories.  So, one I’ll just be a little drunker than the other. Winnipeg Folk Fest is a legendary festival. I just got a ton of friends in Winnipeg, so it’s always great to see them. I’ll probably be using an all local band made up of folks from town there. So that’s always fun, getting to play with your buddies and watching great music. Dauphin, you know that’s a little rowdier. I have some great memories there. It was I think the first festival I ever played in Canada. That’s where I met Corb and became friends with him. Had some great late night shows at the stages up there on the hill. So yeah, I’m looking forward to getting back.

Stylus: Awesome. One final question here. Your tune “She Left Me For Jesus” is one of my favourites. How did you come up with that one?

HC: Right on. I wrote it with a guy named Brian Keene. Originally from South Carolina, he lives in Nashville now. He just came over to my apartment a while back. He had this idea. His girlfriend, now his wife, was sort of questioning, she was rediscovering her religion, and it was affecting their relationship. So he had this idea of being left for Jesus. So we just sat down and in like an hour and a half banged out five or six verses of the ways someone could be confused into thinking they’re being fooled around on, but really the girl was just finding religion. We just had fun with it. He went home and I thought that was the end of it. Never thought it’d see the light of day. But when I was doing that record [Trouble in Mind] I dusted it off, and it just found a home there.

Stylus: Now, on the record and the CD you have two different versions. Was one done as a demo, or were you just messing around with the song at that time?

HC: I’ve done both, so when I wrote it it was a slower song. Which was funnier to me, the joke comes across a lot better. But it’s also about 2 minutes longer. So when looking, when I was cutting the CD, we just did the honky-tonk shuffle version, and it just worked. But I was glad to put out the slower version on the LP, I always liked that take.

Get your camping gear out and head to Dauphin’s Countryfest June 27-30 (why not take a night to enjoy Riding Mountain National Park while you’re at it? A true hidden gem on the Prairie). If you’re not up for a road trip, make sure to catch him at Bird’s Hill Park for the 40th annual Winnipeg Folk Festival July 10 – 14. Be a real winner & hit them both up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *